“Everybody in Lettuce has an inside joke we say which is ‘the tape don’t lie,’ which means that you are judged by your work and you are judged by your track record.”
Some bands guarantee a good time. It could be from the way they make people dance, how the horn section takes over inhibitions, or the rhythms, beats, and grooves. Often, it’s all of the above.
Starting out at Berklee College of Music during the summer of ’92, Lettuce has made a name in the funk and jam band community by harnessing these qualities. Members such as drummer Adam Deitch, trumpeter Eric Bloom, and keyboardist Nigel Hall have also collaborated with the likes of Pharoahe Monche, Pretty Lights, Soulive, John Scofield, and Snarky Puppy.
The seventh Lettuce album, Resonate, dropped last month via Universal Music Group affiliate Round Hill Records, and is one of the best records of 2020 thus far. Hall and I spoke about its making, the legends involved, what he has been up to while quarantined, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
What did you and the band do differently while making Resonate versus what you did while making your Grammy-nominated previous album, Elevate?
Elevate and Resonate are from the same sessions. When we went into the studio, we recorded about 30 songs right off the bat and we took it real easy. I really enjoyed this record the most because I feel like it holds a certain vibe that we all have together as musicians. We’re starting to meld into a thing, we’re all great friends and the best music is made amongst friends. That’s why I feel that this particular selection of music on Resonate is great.
I enjoyed listening to it. One thing I really like about Resonate is that it has this Washington, DC go-go vibe and you actually have Big Tony from Trouble Funk and Jungle Boogie from Rare Essence collaborating with you guys on the track “Checker Wrecker.” How were you able to get them involved and what was the experience like working with them?
Me being from Washington, D.C, Big Tony and Trouble Funk have been inspirations to me as a musician and as a Washingtonian. Our management just reached out and I think the selling point to them was me being from D.C. and having a person in the band being from there. We always play with Jungle Boogie whenever we perform in D.C., so he had a lot to do with that also. It was amazing, especially being from the real go-go scene in D.C., to have those legends and to be on any sort of recording with them was definitely a dream come true.
With the COVID-19 virus shutting live music down, what have you been doing musically to keep yourself occupied?
I’ve been doing a lot of music remotely with people. I finished up my next solo record and I actually have two records in the can. I have an Earth, Wind & Fire tribute record that I did with Butcher Brown, and I also have a quarantine record I did with a bunch of random people. That record is a bunch of stuff that I’ve always wanted to record and play but I never had the chance to. Now that I’m home and stuck in my house where I have my studio, I figured that this time would be better than ever to do it. I’ve been doing that and with Lettuce we’ve been recording stuff remotely and work never stops, I’m surprised that it hasn’t stopped.
I figured at the start that I would be in the house doing nothing and watching Hulu and Netflix, which I have been doing a great amount of. I’ve been busy, I’ve been keeping myself creative and I’m very glad for that.
I’m glad to hear it. Which shows on Hulu and Netflix have you been watching?
I love old school shows so I’ve fallen into a Boondocks rabbit hole. I started watching Boondocks and I also started watching Power again because Power is my favorite show. I also watch a lot of What’s Happening!!, Good Times, and I still watch The Cosby Show (laughs) and I’m not afraid to say it, that shit is fuckin’ funny. You have to be able to separate the art from the artist and Dr. Huxtable is the funniest motherfucker ever. Bill Cosby isn’t, but Dr. Huxtable is.
Along with the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement has reached new levels of visibility due to massive peaceful protesting all over the world and a ton of folks speaking out against police brutality. You just took part in the digital event “Justice Comes Alive: A Virtual Festival For Equality” this past Sunday, but are there any activist groups that you’ve been working with or anything in that vein?
Me personally right at this moment, no. The reason why is because I feel like a lot of the different organizations are just talking. Every time a Black person gets killed in this country by a cop, it happens more often than we see and we see it all the time. Every time that happens, Reverend Al Sharpton always comes to the rescue to rile up the Black people and tell us that we gotta march. We gotta do this and we gotta do that, but nothing ever happens.
I feel like today there needs to be organizations that are doing something to make this problem go away. We’ve lost all of our Black leaders and people, especially nowadays, who can speak and who should speak become victims because every time it happens we get our brains blown out. I think that right now if I was going to be involved with any sort of organization, I need to see action from them. We all can see now that this is a serious problem and if you haven’t seen that this is a problem yet and it takes now for you to see it then that’s a big problem too. That’s what we are out to change, we’re out to change that mentality but we just need to see action.
I want to support a group that is actually doing something. Everybody in Lettuce has an inside joke we say which is “the tape don’t lie,” which means that you are judged by your work and you are judged by your track record. It’s like Michael Jordan, Jordan didn’t have to talk shit because all of his talking was in his game. I feel that we as Black people, we as white people, and we as all kinds of people need to start thinking about that right now. This is a very tumultuous time and it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. We need to have conversations and we need to check people.
What are some plans that you have for the summer?
I’m trying to finish my quarantine record and I’m trying to do things to help educate people to be better rather than performing for people. I feel like now is not the time for us to be performing or as I’d like to say, shuckin’ and jivin’. Now is the time for education and I feel like people need to be educated more than they need to be entertained. If I can do my part with that then that’s what I want to be doing, I want to be educating people during this time and showing people a better way.
If I couldn’t do it through my music, I want to be able to do it through sharing knowledge with people because knowledge is power. It’s our responsibility to do that.
This article was produced in collaboration with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Pandemic Democracy Project.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.